Egypt: commitment to a Leopard not changing its spots

by: Atilio A. Boron

Fierce repression against the slightest hint of dissent and torture were everyday things in Mubarak Egypt

Hillary Clinton yesterday told reporters that what had to be avoided at all costs in Egypt was a power vacuum. The White House goal was an orderly transition to democracy, social reform, economic justice, that Hosni Mubarak was President of Egypt and that what mattered was the process of transition. Unlike what happened on another occasion, President Obama would not require the exit of the disgraced leader.

How could it be otherwise, the statements of the Secretary of State reflect the geopolitical concept that the U.S. has consistently maintained since the Six Day War in 1967, and whose gravity was increased after the assassination of Anwar el-Sadat 1981 and the assumption of his then vice president, Hosni Mubarak. Sadat had become a cornerstone for the U.S. and Israel, becoming the first head of state in an Arab country that recognized the State of Israel and signed a peace treaty between Egypt and the country on March 26, 1979.

The doubts and resentments that still harbored between Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin as a result of five wars turned into endless peace negotiations that were quickly put aside when both they and the President Jimmy Carter reported that on January 16 of that year a pro-US strategic ally in the region, the Shah of Iran, was overthrown by a popular revolution and sought refuge in Egypt. The fall of the Shah was followed by the birth of the Islamic republic under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to whom the United States and the entire "American civilization" were not only the "Great Satan" but the sworn enemy of Islam.

The violent ejection of the Shah shook the Middle East, and there was no better news coming from the troubled Central American backyard: July 19, 1979 the Sandinistas entered Managua and ended the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, further complicating the U.S. geopolitical table. From that moment, the delicate balance of the Middle East in Egypt, the anchor, would sway American foreign policy. It was necessary to strengthen it at all costs, knowing that under Mubarak's reign of corruption, drug trafficking and laundering money grew at a pace that was exceeded only by the process of impoverishment and social exclusion affecting more sectors of the Egyptian population, and fierce repression against the slightest hint of dissent and torture were everyday things.

So the opportunistic exhortations of President Obama and his Secretary of State sound unbearably hypocritical for a regime corrupt and repressive as few in the world, and which the U.S. maintained and financed for decades. It is heading down the path of economic, social and political reforms. A regime, moreover, in which Washington could send prisoners for torture without having to face unpleasant legal restrictions. The CIA station in Cairo could operate without any obstacles in carrying out its "war on terrorism." It was a regime also that could block the internet and mobile phones that barely measured aroused protest from Washington. Would there have been just as warm a reaction if it had been Hugo Chavez committing such outrages?

Since Mubarak seems to have passed the point of no return, the problem presented for Obama is to build a "Mubarak" without Mubarak, and ensure a timely autocratic replacement to assure continuity with a pro-American autocrat. As I said about the Leopard, "something must be changed so that everything remains as it is." That was the formula that Washington tried unsuccessfully to impose in the months before the fall of Somoza in Nicaragua, appealing to the figure of a character of the regime of Francisco Urcuyo, president of the National Congress whose first and almost last move as president was brief asking the Sandinista Front, which was crushing the Somoza National Guard to the four corners of the country, to lay down their arms.

They deposed him after a few days, and in popular speech the former Nicaraguan president went on to be remembered as "Urcuyo, the ephemeral." What the White House is now trying is something similar: pressure on Mubarak to appoint a vice president in the hope that a new Urcuyo will not repeat the fiasco. The appointment could not have been more inappropriate because it went to the chief of army intelligence, Omar Suleiman, a man even more refractory to the democratic opposition than Mubarak himself, whose credentials are not exactly for the yearning masses requiring democracy.

When the opposition gained numerous streets and attacked the hated police headquarters and the no less hated spies, informers and state intelligence agencies, Mubarak appoints the head of these services no less than to lead democratic reforms. It's a bad joke and it was received by the Egyptians, who kept on taking to the streets convinced that the Mubarak cycle was over and that it was necessary to demand his resignation without further ado.

In the tradition of Marxist socialism it is said that a revolutionary situation is when the above cannot dominate as before and the below does not want to be dominated as earleir. The above cannot because the police were defeated in street fighting and the officers and soldiers fraternize with the demonstrators rather than repress them. Do not be surprised that some other type Wikileaks filtration unveils intense pressure from the White House to abandon the old despot in Egypt as soon as possible to avoid a repeat of the tragedy of Tehran.

The alternatives open to the United States are few and bad: (a) support the current regime, paying a great political cost, not only in the Arab world defending their positions and privileges in this crucial region of the planet, (b) seizure of power by a civilian-military alliance in which the opponents of Mubarak will exert an increased gravitational pull or, (c) the worst of nightmares, if in the dreaded power vacuum that the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood take the government in an assault.

Under any of these possibilities, things are no longer as before, for even in the more moderate variant the probability that a new regime in Egypt continues to be a faithful and unconditional pawn of Washington is extremely low and, at best, highly unstable. And if the outcome is the status of Islamic radicalism, the United States and Israel will become extremely vulnerable in the region, given that the domino effect of the crisis that began in Tunisia, continued in Egypt and is being felt in other important U.S. allies such as Jordan and Yemen, all of which could deepen the U.S. military defeat in Iraq and precipitate a meltdown in Afghanistan.

If these prognoses are fulfilled, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would gain unprecedented resonances whose echoes would come to the sumptuous palaces of the Gulf and Saudi Arabia itself, dramatically and forever changing the state of world politics and the economy.

Translated from the Spanish version by:

Lisa Karpova


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Author`s name Oksana Orlovskaya